Category Archives: Green IT

Green Eggs and Ham

by Scott Kantner, June 5th, 2009 in Data Center, Green IT, Power/Cooling

Warning, this is a long post on a controversial subject.  I’d recommend you refill your coffee cup before diving in.

We get a lot of questions about “Green IT.”   Is your data center Green?   What’s your Green strategy? What do you think of Cap and Trade?  And so on.  With all the bacteria in the air about global warming and the associated hyper ventilation going on in the  media, it’s becoming difficult not to catch the disease and lose perspective.  Do we have really have to add “being Green” to our list of worries in the data center?  Little did I realize a favorite childhood classic would be a relevant stress reliever so many years later.


Do you like green eggs and ham?

There are many shades of green. I was reminded of that one day when my Dad asked me whether I was waiting for the traffic signal to turn avocado before I was going to pull out. But in terms of going Green in the data center there several flavors, such as reducing so called greenhouse gas emissions, buying RoHS compliant products, recycling old assets properly, etc. Since power for equipment and cooling is the most critical resource for IT, the Greenhouse Gas Police are our primary concern. Over on, we find this in a piece entitled “Get Ready For A Carbon Tax:”

Today, the U.S. government and other countries are taking carbon emissions seriously. The Environmental Protection Agency last week formally declared carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to be harmful air pollutants. It’s a move that is thought to set the stage for a carbon tax of some kind.[emphasis added]

Kai Reichardt, data center manager for UniCredit Group, an Italian bank, said his company recently built a data center over a canal [raucous laughter added] so it could use free water cooling instead of expending energy for mechanical cooling. And he said the company will also investigate other opportunities to save.

“You have to define rules and implement them,” he said. “You have to punish the polluters and push the innovators.” [more emphasis added]

Well isn’t that rich?  You, Mr. Data Center owner, are a polluter that needs to be punished.   Whenever the discussion turns from the issue itself to name calling, you know that rational discussion has ended. Let’s assume the title of Evil Polluter for a moment and consider how we might mend our ways.

Would you like them with your server?  I would not like them with my server.

Servers are the first potential power hogs that come to mind. To Green our servers quickly, we have to replace or virtualize them. IBM claims their new x3650 M2 class Intel servers boast $100/year savings on power. Yippee skippee.  Most companies are not going to be excited about spending thousands on a new server just to save $100 annually on the electric bill.  But it adds up in a big data center, you say. Well yes, but if you can show me a budget in this economy that can swap out gear in numbers large enough to make these power savings seem attractive, I’ll show you a budget where that savings is round-off error.  $100/yr by itself is not a compelling story, given the capital expense and upheaval to our operations that always comes with putting new boxes in place.  The sensible solution here would be to buy Greener hardware as old servers naturally come to end of life.  But we’d be doing that anyway without consciously trying to be Green. New hardware from IBM, for example, becomes more energy efficient over time without us asking for it.

If we virtualize, we still have to spend money on product and labor to make it happen, and then we have service outages to incur, end-user politics to negotiate, and all the risks inherent in shutting down and moving healthy systems.  Measuring the hard dollar savings of this maneuver from a Green perspective is like trying to weigh a chicken with a yardstick.  Virtualization is a Very Good Thing, but using Green alone as the cost justification certainly isn’t going to cut it.   Justification is going to found in reduced costs realized from hardware consolidation, new hardware avoidance, and to some degree software license reductions, among other things.

So unless Green means something substantial to the bottom line, who’s actually going to be interested?

Would you like them here or there?  I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere.

We could also try to replace or virtualize storage to save power.  Kantner’s General Theory of Storage states that:

The rate of  storage growth is inversely proportional to the amount of free storage available.

In other words, we’re always going to need more storage at the most inopportune times.  Once we advance beyond spinning platters for storage (e.g. SSD), perhaps storage will become more power efficient.  But regardless, storage virtualization leads only to a deferral of additional storage purchases through better space utilization, not a reduction of powered up hardware.  Ultimately, storage purchases are justified by business requirements, not by an appeal to better power efficiency.

What about network gear?   Because of the business impact of disruptions that can occur when swapping out major network components, no one is going to dive into that pool until it’s absolutely necessary.  Those big old Cisco 6500 power supplies are going to continue to glow like the sun.

Green really needs to mean something more to the bottom line.

Would you, could you, in your data center?   I would not, could not in my data center.

Short of taking a major outage or starting over, what practical facility changes can one realistically expect to cost justify?   Few can accord to rip/replace chiller plants, UPS systems, or generators with more efficient units.   That said, we are in fact looking at ways to shut our chiller plant down during the winter and just run off the cooling tower loop, but we’re doing that to reduce costs – Green is not the driver, but rather deregulation of the electrical utility.

Sure there are some practical things we can do, but extreme measures are hard to justify.  We hear of folks running their cold aisles at temps over 90°F.  Anyone smell silicon burning?  (Incidentally, we’ve seen equipment get toasted. We like 72° at the equipment inlet for good reason, and the Uptime Institute agrees.)

But let’s get back to our alleged title of Polluters.  Here at DSS we don’t have smoke stacks towering out of the data center. Chances are, neither do you. Why?  Because the vast majority of us obviously don’t generate our own power. We outsourced that to the electric utility industry a long time ago. Certainly we can turn things off and use less, but the generator plant down the street is not going to run any less and will still make power the same way. And if that way is anything other than nuclear fission, there are still nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, dust, and carbon dioxide wafting into the atmosphere. Greening our data centers isn’t going to change that.  Clearly there is something else driving the Green monster.

I do so like green eggs and ham, Thank you, Uncle Sam-I-Am!

Business cares about the bottom line, not greenhouse gas. Uncle Sam-I-Am understands this. Could it be that the clarion call to save the planet is rooted in the discovery of green ham?  My hunch is that Uncle Sam is all about the green ham, namely the cold hard cash that will come out of Cap and Trade, or any other similar program.  And we get the green eggs of trying to minimize our financial exposure to  those taxes…err…programs. Cap and Trade, boiled down to it’s essence, is about government revenue, and it looks like Uncle Sam has done his homework. My bet is that Archie Bunker would smell a rat too.  (If you’re a Dem, please don’t be offended – the title should really be “Archie Bunker on Government”).

As major consumers of power, those of us with data centers are squarely in the cross-hairs.   Faced with confiscatory financial punishment, we suddenly have an interest in global warming, whether it’s reality or not.  If the revenue from Cap and Trade were only intended to replace legacy power plants with nuclear or other clean power, then the  idea would be more palatable, but as they’re designed now, these plans look like just more sources of pork to be spent as Uncle Sam sees fit. One need look no further than the UK for confirmation.

You do not like them so you say. Try them! Try them! And you may.

While I’m not alone in my contrary view on Green, the IT jury is still out on what Greening the Data Center really means from a practical standpoint. But let me end with some positive suggestions for both camps. For those truly concerned about going Green, consider mothballing your server room or data center and move your gear to a professional hosting facility. Take your shop off the grid and put it in a cloud somewhere that can, because of scale, do it with more power efficiency that you would be able to achieve on your own. If global warming theory rings true for you, this should have tremendous and obvious appeal. If it doesn’t, and you just want to avoid the hassles of Cap and Trade, you too might consider moving your gear to a professional data center. Let us Evil Polluters smell the sulfur of green eggs and send the ham to Uncle Sam.